The History and Tradition of Matzah During Passover

Matzah is a significant part of the seder- a traditional meal that Jewish families eat at the beginning of Passover. It has a deep history and symbolism. 

Matzah is an unleavened bread that has a cracker-like texture. It plays a significant role in the seder– a traditional meal eaten on the first nights of Passover. Jews have eaten matzah for over 3,500 years- since the Exodus. To learn more about this historical and religious food, keep reading!

The following are points mentioned in this article:

  • * An overview of matzah
  • * The history of matzah
  • * An explanation of the seder meal
  • * Matzah’s role in the seder meal
  • * The meaning and symbolism of matzah
  • * The creation of matzah

An Overview of Matzah

Matzah is an unleavened bread typically eaten during Passover, which is is the Jewish holiday that recognizes the Exodus when the Jews fled slavery in Egypt to live in the land that God promised them. There are many foods that Jews are forbidden to eat during Passover. However, matzah is one of the foods that God commands Jews to eat. They are not allowed to eat leavened bread for the duration of Passover.

The Torah states that Jews must eat matzah on the first day of Passover. However, it is a food commonly eaten throughout the holiday. Due to the preparation of matzah and its wafer-like construction make it difficult to store. Therefore, people tend to make or buy matzah daily during Passover.

The History of Matzah

Passover, as mentioned before, celebrates the liberation of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. The story goes that the Hebrews fled in such a hurry that they had no time to wait for their bread to rise. Others say that leavened bread took up too much space on the journey. Either way, matzah played a significant role in the liberation of the Hebrews. As a result, matzah is an essential aspect of the Seder meal and the celebration of Passover.

An Explanation of the Seder Meal

Passover begins with the Seder meal; within the meal, there is wine, specific food, storytelling, and reading. Overall, the meal helps Jews remember the Exodus.

There is a particular layout of the meal. Fifteen different stages make up the duration of this meal, and each stage recounts a different aspect of the Exodus. The Haggadah, a specific book whose purpose is to explain the seder meal and describes the organization of seder. Family members read from this book throughout the meal.

There are specific foods included in the meal: matzah, shank bone called the zeroa, bitter herbs, and eggs. Included on this list is charoset. This is a paste made of fruit, wine, and nuts. Additionally, there are the karpas vegetables. These are small veggies, like celery, dipped in saltwater. Each food contains a symbolism that has to do with the story of Exodus.

Matzah’s Role in the Seder Meal

One part of the seder meal is, of course, the matza. There are three pieces of bread stacked on top of each other. The three parts are representative of the three groups of people in the Jewish community. The groups consist of the Priests, Levites, and Israelites.

During the fourth step of the seder, a participant breaks the bread into two pieces. The smaller part goes back onto the plate, and the larger part- called the afikoman- remains on the table for everyone to see. Traditionally, families eat it at the end of seder as the desert. Sometimes, families hide the afikoman for others to look for it.

Overall, the matzah is eaten three times during the seder: after hearing the story of Exodus, when participants are to make a sandwich with its pieces, and at the end when they eat the afikoman.

The Meaning and Symbolism of Matzah

When Jews break the middle matzah during the seder, they refer to it as the bread of affliction. This is because matzah was a typical food the Hebrews ate while enslaved in Egypt. It was an easy meal to make and was also cheap.

Towards the end of the seder, participants of the meal eat the afikoman. At this moment, the unleavened bread represents freedom. However, there are conflicting symbols- freedom and slavery. The contrast allows for the representation that people can change, but their values may stay the same. In the case of the Hebrews and the Exodus, they changed from people who lived based on subservience to a group empowered by God.

While the matzah has a symbolic role in the dinner, hiding the afikoman has its purpose as well. It is a tradition for the parents to hide the afikoman for the children to find. This is so that the children can pay attention during the often long and tedious traditional dinner. The afikoman also represents the Paschal lamb, the food eaten at the very end of the very first seder meal.

The Creation of Matzah

The ingredients of matzah include flour and water. When baking, it is not allowed to rise. It is not very common to make matzah at home due to its very complicated instructions. It can be challenging to manage the rising of the bread. Jews are strictly forbidden to eat any unleavened bread during Passover. Therefore, the matzah must not rise. Otherwise, it would not be considered matzah.

After the Industrial Revolution introduced a new technology that streamlined the production of food, along with this came the establishment of factory-produced matzah. 1838 was the year in which the first machine produced matzah. Before this, families would walk to their local baker to buy matzah. The introduction of factory-made matzah is another contributing reason as to why it is not common to make matzah at home.

Today, there are two major companies that produce most of the world’s matzah. Two are in the United States, but there are many more located in Israel.

Overall, matzah plays a significant role in the Passover festivities. It has a deep history that dates back to the Exodus. As a result, matzah is an essential symbol in the seder and the Jewish faith.

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